Jesus is being tested by the scribes and Pharisees. They brought a woman to him who had been caught in adultery. If Jesus says that the woman should be stoned, he would suffer the wrath of the Romans who forbade the Jews permission to execute. If Jesus tells them to free her, then he can be accused of breaking the law of Moses. Instead he puts it back on the accusers, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus actions provide a model for all of us. He responds in mercy and love. He tells those who are without sin to cast the first stone. So, he doesn't condemn either the woman caught in adultery or the those waiting to stone her.
Biblical scholars have long wondered what Christ was writing on the ground as he bent down during this encounter. Some say it was the sins of all the accusers. Others say that he was merely giving them a chance to reconsider their position so that he wouldn't have to embarrass them. In any case, the fundamental lesson is clear: we are all in need of God's mercy; we all have sinned and forfeited God's glory.
Young and old, the accusers walked away. And so the adulteress was free to go. Everyone is in need of God's mercy. Realizing that we need God's mercy enables us to forgive others and treat them with the love that Christ requires.
We experience God's mercy and love many times in our lives. We especially experience it in the sacrament of reconciliation. He is always willing to forgive our sins, no matter how serious they may be. Jesus is waiting for us in the confessional. He isn't there to condemn or stone us. He is there to remove the burden of sin from us and to return us to his graces.
Jesus tells the woman: "Go and sin no more." Notice that he doesn't tell her that her behavior was OK. He acknowledges that she has been sinning and he tells her to stop it. Her sin is not accepted or approved by God. It is important that she stop sinning because eventually she will face the consequences of her sin. Our God loves us so much that he gave us a free will. He loves us, even when we sin. But, if we continue to turn away from him by sinning, not loving God or our neighbor, he will condemn our actions in his judgment of us after we die.
Have we ever been tested? I suspect that most of us are being tested all of the time. We might be tested by the behavior of some of those close to us - our friends, our neighbors, our children, our grandchildren, our siblings. We might be asked to accept their sinful behavior. And, if we do accept it, eventually this acceptance becomes approval and maybe even support. If we do not accept their sinful behavior, we might be viewed as judgmental or even worse.
I see many examples of the love and mercy of God in the Gospels. These would include the prodigal son, the good shepherd, and many more. But, we also have many examples of the judgment of God such as the rich man, the narrow gate, and sheep or goats.
Our society affirms the love and mercy of God but rejects the idea of him judging us. Is Jesus loving and merciful or is he a just judge? He is both. If we reject his love and turn away from him by sinning, he will accept our decision on judgment day and will give us our just due. If Jesus weren't a just judge, our behavior wouldn't matter. Our free will would be meaningless. God respects our decisions.
As we witness the confusion which divides families and paralyzes our nation, today's Gospel provides a model for is. We, like Jesus, must always respond in mercy and love. It is not appropriate that we stone others either by our actions or our words, no matter what they have done. And, it also isn't appropriate that we accept or support sinful behavior. We love the sinner by condemning the sin.
Jesus, give us the courage to defend your truth. Holy Spirit, give us the words to say in the midst of difficult conversations or encounters. Fill us with the Holy Spirit, Lord, so we can be your faithful and true disciples.